Generations X, Y, & Z; The New Workplace and the Last of The Baby Boomers

The surviving Baby Boomers are in the process of leaving the workplace for retirement. They were replaced with Generation X who is now fading into the sunset as well. I'm a Generation X'er, born in the 60's or 70's, also called the Baby-busters or the ME Generation.

We were the last generation that got away with building a career without college. We were also the last generation to attempt the conformity of our predecessors. We were the generation in between. Technically, we were the generation that failed.

It was The X Generation that saw our fathers work for the same company for their entire careers. Since we were raised with these concepts- that our bosses would take care of us if we tow the line and show loyalty- we implemented these same ideas into our early careers.

We were also the first computer generation. Years ago in the officeplace the Baby Boomers whined and complained every time something changed or every time a work task became computerized. For example, a company most likely spent decades printing out and snail-mailing its invoices and bills to customers. During the Gen X infiltration came credit cards and phone sales. Then, the use of the fax machine. Then came software packages; computer programs that could print and send invoicing. And then the introduction of electronic billing and electronic payments. We gave the world Lotus 123. And does anybody remember microfilm or microfiche? Haha, yeah… don’t admit that.

Business changed as the result of Generation X, and so did employment. Outsourcing began. Older employees quickly lost their value. Early retirement packages were implemented to clear out dead weight and to cut costs. Companies stopped being family-friendly and started being efficient.

The Baby Boomers who were always looked upon as stable for being married with kids, were now looked upon as the employees requiring the most benefits, costing the most, asking for the most time off, and offering the least in the computer generation. The newer, younger employees were willing to work holidays, weekends, and evenings. They were single and more adaptable. They knew computers. They were able to do the same job for half the money since they did not have a family to support.

But these changes continued with entropy. It was much like the classic example of the technology lag of airports. As the technology behind designing and building jets improved, airports couldn't keep up. Generation Xers were like these new airplanes: faster, sleeker, better, and the companies they worked for didn’t quite know how to handle it.

The way those companies handled, or didn't handle Generation X has resulted in the work climate of today. Many stuck to the old ways of the Baby Boomers who are now almost all gone. This has left these organizations in a very poor position now. Other companies adopted change at all costs, abandoning loyalty for the sake of competing and surviving. As some Generation Xers reached the mid point of their careers they did the unthinkable and branched out on their own. In the technology age, this was completely possible. As technology changed, the need for these new businesses was created. As unhappy employees were pushed out of the workplace, those new businesses were populated. It was a confusing time for many companies.

And as Gen Xer’s broke out in their own start-up, it changed the face of business. Some made it, and some failed, joining the ranks of the many Gen Xers that failed and had to move back home with their parents.

Obviously it’s not that simple. Many factors went into what’s resulted in the economic landscape of today. But from the business point of view, this is one of them. As a result of the Generation X workplace, consumers were not in a position to buy, and competition was constantly doubling and tripling.

Today, Gen X, those once bright and sometimes blinding beams of a newer confused workforce are settling into their 40’s, and employees half their age are on the scene. Welcome Generation Y.

Y was a different animal. Born between 1980 and 1995, they were raised by doting parents who didn't want their children to feel the pressure and competition that raised them. Y's had serious technological and social skills and a completely different outlook on business. And keep in mind, the business world that came before them had been basically demolished. The company your father retired with became a company that cut its dead weight. Entire departments were closed or revamped. New departments focusing on new concepts like web development were created. Outsourcing became a legitimate option for competing financially.

The Y Generation saw that companies needed websites and websales. They all carried cellphones and debit cards. And they saw the Gen Xer's struggle to get companies to change, rather than fail.

Generation Y saw older employees that had given their life’s work to one company getting fired, laid off, or forced into early retirement. The workplace needed to streamline and re-invent itself, and once it embraced Gen Y, it did so by cutting the deadweight of Gen X and prior: ironically, a lesson the X'ers taught those same companies in the first place.

By Y2K, in two words: everything changed. And as the 21st century began, Generation Y began its run, questioning just about everything that had come before.

Slowly the focus of most sustaining companies shifted from enforcing rules that don’t work to actually getting work done. Many Y’s were turned away from some sinking outdated companies, but smartly embraced by cutting edge ones. And to attract Gen Y employees, companies had to become current instead of antiquated.

Y’s were working remotely around the clock. They were tekkie and effective. They redefined The Marketplace and how to reach their targets.

A great example of that concept in action was the Obama for President Campaign. They were viral, they were Tweeting, they were Facebooking, Youtubing, Skyping, blogging and texting. They were in online forums, messageboards and chatsessons. Every evening the campaign went online to decide where they should go the next day. And look how it worked out for them. They experienced maximum effectiveness.

Everything that came before looks like a dinosaur. In just a few short years it went from being a cool option that a company consider electronic invoicing to it being a necessity.

But it's important to understand that the biggest change wasn’t just in the computers. It was in the attitude.

Generation Y saw how the “Be loyal and tow the line” conformity mantra of the past had failed their fathers. A Generation Y kid is the first to be able to tell you that his mother worked for the same company for 25 years, since she was only 20 years old, and was fired for pretty much no reason. She never got to spread her wings, she never liked her job, she never looked forward to going to the office to sit at the same desk from 8am thru 5pm. No boss had ever listened to her ideas, they just made sure she was sitting at her desk at the right time, and didn't leave a minute early. The company taught her to worry about being 3 minutes late to the office, rather than the work itself. Her goals had been discarded and her talent wasted as she spent the majority of her time obeying ridiculous company rules about taking multiple sick days in a 3 month period, or what to wear, or hiding a tattoo, or having to be back from lunch in exactly 45 minutes. The company that imposed the most restricting regulations was also the company that threw her away for a new employee who knew Unix, or Oracle, who’d accept the position for $15K less a year than she made.

Gen Y stood up and said, “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Head-hunters and online resume/career forums went into full swing as not only the business world changed, but also the employees changed.

The Baby Boomers are no longer running the show. They’re being run out of the show. The last of them will be retiring in the next decade. Even companies that dragged their heels coming into the 21st Century have to face the fact that their company elders are Gen X’ers: leftovers of a disappointed generation caught in between the “work ethic conformists” of yesterday, and the technologically superior non-conformists of tomorrow.

People born in the 1980’s see first hand that job stability is non-existent now. Instead they focus on their own careers instead of the job a company offers. They are concerned with Green issues, feeling good about what they do, and knowing that they don't have to depend upon any one company for everything they need. They see the unhappiness and disillusionment of the past generations. They see no purpose in allowing themselves to be non-thinking clock-punching sheep that are tied to desks, doing as told, instead of thinking as needed. Y has re-written the model X tried to launch. And as all generations prior have either retired, burned out, or failed, Gen Y has created a different business platform.

And change is not over. Generation Z says, “Bring Me The Horizon.” They are even more polarized and focused on having quality lives. Also called the Net Generation, these are the youngest offspring of Generation X, typically born from 1990 thru the early 2000’s. They don’t want to wind up moving back home with their parents, like many of their parents had to do. They don’t want to be caught in-between so they are constantly competing for the most current and efficient technology. They don’t understand songs like “Thank God it’s Friday,” or “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend.” These are concepts that are simply beyond them.

Today’s successful business is Gen Y inundated and Gen Z prepared. The newest additions to the workforce are what will make or break a company today. These newcomers aren’t looking to conform, they are looking to be regarded because they can bring something valuable into the workplace; something important and current, something that earns money and has growth potential. Functioning businesses look to an employee for what they can offer in the way of branding, viral marketing and social media, instead of focusing on irrelevant trappings like not taking more than 2 instances of sick time within 30 days.

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Sarah 6 years ago

You knocked this one out of the park, Veronica!

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

Thanks Sarah. I spent a lot of time on this one. I did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people but most of this piece is drawn from my own experience and observations.

Gen Why 6 years ago

This piece really struck a nerve with me in the best possible way. I’ve been talking with people of various generations regarding the ol’ two weeks notice when leaving a job. I live and work in a state with at-will employment. Both parties are free to walk away from the employment relationship without warning or reason. Now, if an employer is free to fire an employee at any given time without any reason whatsoever, why is it expected that the employee give notice of their intent to leave? Obviously, they don’t have to give notice, but it is considered burning a bridge if they do not. What are your thoughts?

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

Gen Why,

Thanks for the comment.

I agree with you. The 2 week departing notice in my opinion is reflective of that old-fashioned in-office work place. It's part of a mindset and a work environment that is ineffective now. It has a definition to it like that 2 weeks equals 80 hours, chained to a desk from 8 to 5 which was completely ineffectual in the first place.

But don't forget it's also part of the work reference history you leave behind. New employers often want to contact prior employers to check you out. So if a two week notice is expected, you can't disregard it and expect a decent reference. You don't want to screw yourself.

The employer's side of laying-off with no notice has been the severance package. But lately, that along with other benefits has gone out the window. And you're right, being fired usually eliminates everything from severance pay to a decent reference.

If you need an immediate suggestion for a current situation, I suggest a compromise be made. Maybe you can meet in the middle with a 1 week notice, or you can offer your services as a consultant at a reduced price. But make sure it's stated that the reference you get will be good. Ask for that reference letter in writing before departure.

For the future, Gen Y and the coming Gen Z will have to work out a replacement concept, but it will be even. It won't be based upon clock punching, it will be based upon what each party actually needs. They will have to negotiate an exit package in writing as part of their employment contract, no matter who terminates the employment. It needs to be even from both sides. It will include what the company needs from the employee upon his exit such as passwords to external social media sites, notes, contacts, the return of property and perhaps an overview of current projects with a manager. But the employee needs to get what they want too, for example a reference that does not include prejudice for departure and agreeable monetary compensation. I would think in many cases that kind of exit could be accomplished in a couple of days.

Joni Douglas profile image

Joni Douglas 6 years ago

Very insightful hub.

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

Thank you Joni!

Marah 6 years ago

Great article, so true! I'm generation Y, and on my lunch break at my first permanent job after graduating college in 2009. Lol and doing this from my i phone I might add

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

Thanks Marah! Grr, I should have gone i-phone. I went Droid, I'm not happy. Enjoy your lunch!

Sylvia Leong profile image

Sylvia Leong 6 years ago from North Vancouver (Canada)

The only constant in life is change.

Incredible Hub! This is very important information for anyone who doesn’t want to wake up one day & realize he/she has grown into a dinosaur.

My husband is a baby-boomer, I am the first of the baby-busters. However, we think & live just like the Gen Z (& did so even before they came along).

We were never blessed with children & so are content with living in a small condo. We love our careers & have both been self-employed for years - hence we answer to no one & enjoy an incredible amount of freedom. I think this is what has enabled us to keep up with society’s constantly changing culture. Maintaining a simple life is key.

I’m excited for the future - to see what Generation Alpha will add to further change our amazing world!

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

Thanks, Sylvia Leong.

Is Alpha what will follow Z? Interesting! You sound like you have a really nice life, with alot of freedom. It's easier to observe when we aren't so close as to lose perspective, so yours is probably a very dynamic view. Thanks for the comment!

rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

great insight, Veronica, and oh, so true. We can look at what's happening in the work force and clearly see this taking place. I have two Gen Y sons, and you've nailed them to a t. The oldest one saved the company he works for from going bankrupt because of his marketing and net skills. They know how to negotiate and have excellent people skills. I think this generation has a lot to teach the world, and they won't settle. It will be up to them to instill more discipline into the Z's who are, IMO, very spoiled.

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

Thanks rebekahELLE. That's really something about your one son, the company was wise to have hired him.

rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

Veronica, the incident with my son was an interesting one with some key characteristics of the Gen Y's in play.

I don't recall all the details, but the business was headed down, and the owner had started laying off a few people including the head of his ecommerce dept., which was my son. We thought it was incredible that this happened. This took place before a weekend. By Monday morning, he received a phone call telling him he had made a mistake and that he couldn't afford to lose him.

Well, my son was happy about regaining his position, but he negotiated and talked over the plans of how to move forward, and got an immediate raise! Less than a year later, the owner told him he had saved the company and gave him a new title, a significant bonus and another raise. He was 26-27 at the time. Some may look at that and say he was being ego-centric, or selfish, but he (son) knew the business could make a turn around with focused plans and the liberty to put it in action. We need these smart, take action, team players if we're going to move ahead in a global economy. The days of the passive, clock-watcher employee are behind us. Employers are looking for these kind of team players, not simply workers.

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

rebekahELLE, I completely agree. And congratulations to your son for negotiating and creating a workplace that can win. Kudos also to his boss, who I'm sure is not a Y'er, who stopped failing long enough to see the light.

Business has changed. There are not many Baby Boomers left, and those that are left, are leaving. What's left now is the Gen Xers that were the first to rock the boat. We came in, upset everything, and utlimatley displaced ourselves in many ways. Y will pick up where we left off. Y has the advantage of the changed workplace. There is no choice anymore. Get onboard with the future, or close up shop.

I wish your son continued success!

FtMyersMarketing profile image

FtMyersMarketing 6 years ago from Ft Myers Florida

I liked the line "Companies stopped being family-friendly and started being efficient." It often seems businesses are still becoming less family friendly and aren't necessarily deriving the same amount of efficiency.


Grouchy Baby Boomer

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author


That's true, it happened then and it's still happening. And that's a mistake. There was a way to bring in the new without axing the old. Had it been balanced better, we would now have a Gen Y with a better taste in its mouth for company loyalty, instead of the "anything but" attitude it taught them.

FtMyersMarketing profile image

FtMyersMarketing 6 years ago from Ft Myers Florida

Over the years I've hired, supervised, and trained 100's of Gen X's and Y's ... and it never occurred to me until just now ... it seems the guys I worked with were either exceptional or well below standard in intellect and work ethic, with few being average. Whereas most baby boomers seemed to fall in the average category with relatively few over achievers and under achievers. Thought provoking article ... so glad I found it!

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author

Wow. That really is an interesting observation, FtMyersMarketing. And actually it makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks for reading me!

Lindsey79 profile image

Lindsey79 6 years ago from CA

Excellent article, Veronica! I'd love to see a follow-up piece to this talking about how the family friendliness issues has affected the economic landscape as we Americans are so behind most other first world companies in this regard with our high work hours and lower benefits.

I'm a Gen Y raised by a boomer and it definitely has changed a lot. One-income families are the exception rather than the rule, and a high school diploma doesn't go as far as it used to. It seems that a college degree is the new basic, taking the place of the high school diploma of yesteryear.

I've definitely seen a turn around in the workaholic lifestyle in even recent years as the family friendliness is not just a womens issue anymore. That more and more men are wanting time off too to nurture their lives, whether it's a family or other endeavors. It seems that all the machismo driving workaholic lifestyles has finally started to wane. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that as it does seem like the pendulum is finally starting to swing back the other way as the Gen Yers are rejecting the workaholic lifestyles and opting for more self-employment (or that's at least what I've seen among my peers).

I think it's tied to the job security, or lack thereof, that you highlighted. Even being a workaholic doesn't guarantee you job security anymore as cheaper employees are behind you, either in age or through outsourcing. As a result, more folks are going into business for themselves, which technology has made much more feasible. Sure, there's less security (but it's almost nonexistent these days anyway), but results in more direct profit meaning that we can work less hours and still achieve the same salary while having time for other things that feed the soul.

It seems to me that family friendliness has become not so much about family anymore, but just folks wanting time to do those soul feeding things. For some it is family, for others, it's art, traveling, etc. So regardless of whether you have a family, more workers want more personal time.

Veronica profile image

Veronica 6 years ago from NY Author


Thanks so much for commenting!

By family friendliness, I meant how a man was looked upon many moons ago in the business world as stable if he had a wife and kids. It was a friendly situation towards him because he had a family. That changed with the Gen Xers when it was demonstrated that those "family value" kinda guys weren't necessarily better workers, and in fact the single guys could give more to the company. It's come full circle now, where people with families are often looked at as people that need more benefits and more time off.

Yes, I agree completely, Gen Y is not a workaholic. They see how badly that worked out for generations prior, and they aren't going live to work the way their father's did.

The funny thing about that is, even though they refuse to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week from Monday thru Friday, they are on call a crazy amount of time, checking their smartphones and email and everything. They wind up putting in just as much time if not more. The difference is, it's actually good quality time, where work takes president instead of clock watching.

It's a good point that everyone wants free time and benefits if that's what you're seeing, we'll have to see how that plays out. Personally I'm seeing the opposite. I know so many Gen Y's that don't want benefits. After seeing their parent's 401K's sink and retirement plans get hijacked or dwindled away, they feel they can do a better job of planning their own retirement. So, that's attractive to companies that don't have to spend the money on bennie packages. I think Gen Y negotiates their work time pretty well. When they are working, it's actual work. For them, taking a day off doesn't mean shutting the cellphone off. So... I don't know, I'm seeing them changing the workplace in that way.

Lindsey79 profile image

Lindsey79 6 years ago from CA

I see what you're saying regarding "family value" kinda guys. I think they were often seen as stable because they had a family to support--that they weren't going to jump ship when a headhunter comes calling. Whereas the single guys were more of a risk because they could jump ship as they didn't need the job security as much, having only themselves to take care of.

I'm just wary of the technology part too as folks in my circle refer to our blackberries as digital leashes --- we're on-call 24/7 most of the time, or when we eventually take some vacation, end up working for a significant part it. I always make sure to tell people I'm somewhere inaccessible -- like hiking through the jungles of Peru -- and shockingly, they somehow manage to find the answers to their unending questions/emails on their own once they know that.

So, for me, I've seen the technology thing be a double-edged sword, both a blessing and a curse. A blessing to the entrepeneur, but more a curse to those working for large companies as around the clock availability is not only encouraged, but expected.

The disturbing trend I've seen is that companies have now shifted to everyone working as a single, familyless adult--the guy they once saw as a risk is the desired commodity now as he works more and costs less. They no longer offer job security and don't seek loyalty in their employees, so the "family value" guy is no longer desirable. Hard to say where it started -- with the single guy or with the company. But as a result, it seems like companies' bottom line have become the end-all-be-all. That we've developed an even more intense live to work mentality in many ways.

40 hrs a week is not considered a full work week for many anymore --- 50, 60, 70+ hour weeks are common. It benefits the company obviously, but at a great personal price to the individual as there is less time for those soul feeding things. When you're in your 20s, it's fairly easy to work those 60, 70+ hour weeks, but it gets old pretty quickly. And with the shift of companies to the younger employees, it seems that the expectation of hours has increased across the board as a result too. Perhaps I have a skewed perspective as my personal experience is based too much in large law firms and silicon valley start-ups where a workaholic mentality is highly valued (presuming the company can jettison you before you have a breakdown, enter rehab or some other costly side effect of such an unbalanced lifestyle).

Of course, you see women exiting these sort companies as it's just not sustainable in the longterm if you want to have a family. But I'm starting to see my male colleagues doing the same. That being a "company man" isn't worth it, even without the biological/family issues.

I wasn't speaking to bennies in the planned retirement way -- frankly I don't know anyone that has a pension or something similar outside of govt. jobs -- that everyone is responsible for their own retirement planning nowadays. I'm thinking of it more in a manageable workload/hours way and basic health benefits. That people with families, and especially women, are seen as riskier workers because the company won't be their number 1 priority all the time. They'll need things like maternity leave, time with their kids, etc --- that darn family will take them away from work! But I'm starting to see that shift from childless folks too -- they too realizing that they'd rather be doing other things than working and starting to feel justified in that desire rather than resenting the family folks for working less (which is why I think they got duped by companies in this regard -- tricked into being their own worst enemies).

PR Morgan profile image

PR Morgan 5 years ago from Sarasota Florida

How did they survive the Backstreet boys!! lol Great hub! Up and awesome!

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